Weaving Threads of Resilience Embroidered in the pandemic-stricken Iloilo is Tahi PH, a canvas of Augustinian creativity and entrepreneurial spirit
Hannah Jhanylle C. Po
Snip. Snap. Whoosh. Bold colors, delicate patterns, thick lines - as the strands of thread intertwined with each movement of dexterous fingers, she spun a plethora of stories, her mind racing. It is human, Patty reasoned, to take a step back while the pandemic unravels the fabric of normalcy. However, incorporating it onto a new canvas, such as a business, is Augustinian.
Typing the final knot, she eyed her handiwork – a cloth mask with a metal nose wire – fingers trailing across the fabric before tossing it to a growing pile of miscellaneous items. Phone on hand, she typed up a quick message, receiving a quick “Thank you” after a ding. Another order accomplished, she grinned, moving to another item.
IN THE THREADS OF ADVERSITY
“When the pandemic happened, I first began reselling cloth facemasks from a friend’s mom, an artistic seamstress, as a side [hobby]. The business has since evolved from that,” shared Maria Patricia “Patty” Flores, in an interview with The Augustinian. When not immersed in Messenger notifications of orders and purchasing new bolts of fabric for production as the mind behind Tahi PH, she reads modules and accomplishes class activities like any other fourth year Marketing Management student at the University of San Agustin would, only with a busier schedule than most.
While most other students would stop at the initial plan, Patty’s zeal, passion, and thoughtfulness cemented her desire to go further with the venture.
“I realized that I did not need to stop with helping one Sastre [seamstress]. I could do more by gathering and outsourcing, considering that many were laid-off due to a lack of events and customers,” she expressed.
Relative to this, an October 15, 2020 news article published in The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that 6,146 individuals in Western Visayas alone had lost their jobs since March of the same year due to the pandemic. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) also noted that 108 and 539 establishments had shut their doors and reduced their workforce, respectively. Among the various industries in the country, those belonging to service, tourism, arts, transportation, sales, construction, maintenance, and manufacturing suffered the most.
In this sense, Patty’s decision to contact and recruit seamstresses willing to sew facemasks and eventually other products possibly alleviated the financial headaches experienced by some families in her locality, Oton.
“Tahi is a social entrepreneurship business as its contributions go beyond providing temporary solutions to eradicate the identified ills of the community. While her end goal is to earn out the venture, her success is defined by how it benefits communities of interest,” opined Jessica Fadriga, the academic supervisor of the University’s Business Administration and Entrepreneurship Program and one of Patty’s professors.
CRAFTING A NEW WEAVE
Taken literally, tahi is a Hiligaynon word for making or mending something with a needle and thread, reminiscent of how its namesake’s products are carefully designed and handcrafted. Given its language use, it also projects authenticity and harkens back to the business’s local (Ogtonganonan) origins.
“Way before high school, I knew I wanted a business named ‘Tahi’ and had saved the name on my iTouch notes should an opportunity arise [like the pandemic]. However, I was undecided on what kind of business I wanted or what products I would sell – bags, clothing, or shoes,” said Patty.
Starting June 25, 2020, during the brunt of the pandemic, Tahi PH began selling facemasks, though not under the brand name. While sales were satisfactory as masks were in high demand, Patty saw possible growth in extending the business’s product portfolio.
Hablon, a product and an act of weaving together locally sourced fibers like cotton, abaca, piña, and jusi, was the first line extension idea that reared its head, considering the sheer amount of hablon weavers in Oton. However, as an advocate of environmental preservation and protection, Patty wanted to be more than another local fashion brand. Rather, her business could be an avenue to promote such ideals and lifestyles as well as affordable slow fashion and local economy stimulation.
With this in mind, Tahi PH settled with katsa or canvas, an organic, biodegradable, multi-purpose, and eco-friendly local cloth, an idea inspired by a Palawan-based brand. At its core, katsa is crafted from upcycled flour sacks, which, when used properly, helps lessen the amount of waste in an area.
“I remember chatting with an old friend from high school, the owner of the biggest bakeshop in the [Iloilo] city. We talked about having her as my supplier for flour sacks, something Tahi PH later became sikat [famous] for,” reminisced Patty with a smile.
Relative to the use of katsa, Oscar Luiz Hallarda, a USA College of Commerce Board Member, one of Patty’s classmates and friends, and a Tahi PH customer, regarded the business as instrumental to the ever-growing sentiments on environmental conservation and the promotion of local brands and products.
“One of its debut products is the Tahi Face Mask, which eventually spawned several variations. The seller, Patty herself, is very accommodating and open to her customers, which makes transactions smooth, easy, and convenient,” he mentioned.
KNOTS IN BETWEEN
Tahi’s conception and growth are not a cut and-dry tale, especially since the business began operating during the business hazardous pandemic.
“At first, managing the business was convenient as it mostly operated on social media. I could sell products from my couch or bed and entertain customers and prospects any time of the day. However, the pandemic is not without its own slew of problems,” imparted Patty.
One issue she shared was the closure of establishments that rely heavily on physical outlets to attract customers. Such relates to many fabric stores, her source of thread and patterns, that could not survive with their primary source of income being barred because of the case against special events and mass gatherings. Even before the COVID-19 was named a threat, pure brick-and-mortar stores had slowly gotten less traction with the emergence of many online businesses and sites that offered cheaper alternatives and, at times, shipped internationally. If a brand wanted to increase its young audience, it needed a strong online presence.
Another problem was customer behavior linked to some customers canceling their orders due to shipping fee increases or wanting to see and feel the actual product before making a purchase.
On the surface, increasing shipping fees may seem like a business seeking to lure in potential customers with affordable prices and later snatching profit from shipping. The truth, though, paints the pandemic as a significant player in the price fluctuations. Specifically, it is connected with transportation restrictions, container shortages, and high demand.
“We would pop up in bazaars and engage in a bit of personal selling, but because of COVID-19, sometimes, the locality would be placed under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ),” she added.
HEMMING IT ALL TOGETHER
Financial, competitive, social, political, environmental, and economic – in all honesty, an entrepreneur’s life is one paved with risks and rewards in varying measures.
“Starting a business, especially in the current volatile environment, is both a great feat and a big gamble for anyone, experience notwithstanding, but as I realized over the years, you cannot waste time mulling over the ‘what ifs,’” asserted Patty.
In her case, though the brand name had been established years prior, Tahi was first a side hustle that had no clear business plan. It was a hobby and an extra source of income while other students burned time watching movies on Netflix and YouTube. In time, she fell in love with the business and the people she had helped and connected with through it.
“If you are a beginner looking to start a business, a sole proprietorship would fit the bill as it allows you to make decisions and learn from mistakes without anyone else being around to dictate the flow or soften the blow. I may be pushing you to be brave but remember to start a business because you love it,” she revealed.
Additionally, she warded against focusing on profit and sales in the starting line. Rather, the main priority should be building relationships and networks, meeting new colleagues, and gaining experience in the industry. It is through t h e s e long-term investments that a business may prosper.
In its part, the University, in addition to its professional courses, internships, and research and community engagement opportunities, exposes students to various training, workshops, and competitions to enhance business acumen. It also has linkages to private companies and government agencies that the students may tap.
“Tahi, for me, is already a success with its positive reputation, but I do not intend to stop here. I will continue to innovate and improve the brand because there is always room for growth,” she declared.
The bottom line is the world continues to undergo a crisis of health and unexpected change. Much like business itself, to tread it is to embark on a perilous journey with no clear way across. To an Augustinian, it is another challenge to overcome.
Snip. Snap. Whoosh. The sounds started again. Patty beamed a needle on hand, and let her fingers dance, spinning threads of resilience.
Published: April 25, 2022